Summary: Seeing injustice, Adam has to act, but his actions and the consequences from them pull his family into that quest too. In the end, all of them make choices knowing the risks involved.
Rating: T Word count: 14,366
Choices and Risks
Rolling up on his side, Adam Cartwright planted a kiss on Sally’s shoulder. He had spent the afternoon with her on Saturday and that had stretched into the night through to Sunday morning. The only intermission had been when he had gone out to get something for their dinner. When he got back to her room, he had served her dinner and then taken her back to the bed. She didn’t mind. She never complained about his attention to her or what he asked her to do. She rarely complained about anything, and when she did, there was a reason that made sense to him. Each time he saw her, he brought her a book to read and retrieved the one from his last visit. In between their sessions of lovemaking, they would talk and often the books would be at least one of those conversations. These times with Sally were some of the most relaxing days in his life.
“Are you going to church today?”
“No, although it is tempting to go and take you with me. I could tell Pa that I’m going to marry you. The look on his face would be something to see. Would you marry me, Sally? I could put a ring on your finger and go shock my father.”
“Adam, don’t toy with me like that. It isn’t any fun for me.”
“I thought you liked me toying with you.”
“Not when it’s teasing me like that. That’s just fun for you not for me. The toying with me you were doing before was fun for both of us.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you unhappy. I guess I wasn’t thinking at all. I apologize for being so inconsiderate. Let’s get back to toying with you in a way you like.”
“First, tell me why you’re not going to church. You usually go to church on a Sunday when you’re in town.”
“This time I have to leave soon. I’m heading to Sacramento for business.”
“But there’s no stage today.”
“I’m riding there. I have to scout out the route of the cattle drive on the way back so I need to have my horse and gear. I’ll ride to Sacramento, carry out the ranch business, and then I’ll ride back along the route.”
“That means you’ll be gone for quite a while. I’ll miss you. I always do.”
“I’ll miss you too. But first, we have some toying to do.”
Uncomfortable with the turn in the conversation, Adam had quickly turned back to something both found comfortable. Then before he left, he opened another conversation that they found uncomfortable and that was repeated with a number of his visits. He handed an envelope to Sally. She took it, but found it difficult to look at him as he finished dressing. Knowing what she was thinking, he paused in what he was doing and wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m not paying you. It’s a gift. I don’t want you to have to have anyone pay you. If you choose to do that, it’s your business, but at least with this money, it’s your choice. I know you welcome me each time whether I give you a gift or not. You never ask for anything. So, it’s a gift that’s freely given. All right?”
“I know you say that when you give me money, but it feels wrong. I don’t like it.”
“But it means what I said it means, doesn’t it? You’re free to say no to men who want you to do things for them if you don’t want to do what they ask?”
Her voice was barely audible when she agreed. As usual, Adam felt bad too at this point. He did feel he was taking advantage of her because he had no intention of marrying her. Yet, he had no intention of marrying anyone. She had accepted him into her life and into her bed knowing that about him. For quite a long time, they had maintained this relationship. His father had to know. There was enough gossip about it, and when he left for town on weekends he was going to see Sally, he always took a book and then came home with one. It was a pattern that was impossible to miss. His brothers had snickered about it until Adam let them know it was not a matter for them to snicker about. They made comments often enough to make him aware how much they knew. Hoss had asked the most direct question but with sincerity so Adam had answered in the same way.
“Do I love her? Yes, I love her, but I am not in love with her. We’re good for each other.”
“Pa says no woman in town will ever marry you now that this thing with Sally is so well known.”
“That isn’t news and doesn’t bother me at all either. It’s quite clear already isn’t it that I’m not interested in marrying any woman in town?”
Joe piped in then with a comment that made Hoss angry because it ended the conversation.
“At least it has shut up the gossips who thought you weren’t interested in women at all.”
An angry glare was all Joe got before Adam stalked away. Hoss gave an equally angry look at his younger brother but didn’t walk away.
“If we was closer to a horse trough, I’d dunk you in one about now. He finally opened up a little, and you done and closed him right up again.”
“I thought maybe he would appreciate that those ugly rumors had ended.”
“He never cared about those anyway. They were wrong, and anybody with a lick of sense knew that anyhow.”
After that day, Hoss had been unable to get Adam to talk about Sally. Ben was afraid to open the conversation because the whole topic made him uncomfortable so he knew what would happen. Sally was a well-known topic that no one in the family discussed. However when Adam didn’t join the family at church on Sunday morning, there were plenty of others who weren’t silent about the subject. There were a number of subtle or not so subtle comments about the missing son and where he might be sleeping in on this morning.
About the time a fuming Ben was singing the first hymn, Adam was riding out of town toward Sacramento and business, but his mind was on Sally and what he should do about that situation. He was torn because she was so good for him. However, he wasn’t so sure he was good for her and was thinking he probably wasn’t good at all for her future. Without him, there was a good chance she might find a husband and have a more normal life if he hadn’t robbed her of that possibility already. Guilt was going to eat at him the more he thought about that and the more he considered what he might have to do.
When in Sacramento, Adam couldn’t afford to spend time thinking about Sally. He had to concentrate on business. After five days, he was able to send contracts home that he was sure his father would like. Normally he would deliver them, but he expected to take at least two weeks scouting out the route of the trail drive and mapping water and grazing areas as well as potential trouble spots. It was a route they had not used in years so they needed to know all those things. He got a packhorse and supplies and set out on his journey vowing to himself that he would also make a decision about what he should do about his relationship with Sally. There were three options as he saw it. He could end it. He could let it continue as it was. Or, he could take the relationship a step further and make it public venturing out to restaurants and social venues with her. He wasn’t sure where that third option might lead, but it had a certain allure to it and much of it had to do with the shock value as well as with offering a more respectable outlet for Sally.
When Adam took the time to analyze that idea in depth, he realized he would never carry through with the third option. He might joke about it, but he did care what his family thought and especially his father. He didn’t think his father could ever accept that behavior from him. No matter how much he might try to act like he had stepped away and become his own man, he was still the dutiful son despite some rebellious behavior. Reputation meant so much to his father that he couldn’t ever follow through on the third option. He felt it was too bad in some ways though. Sally was a more interesting companion for him and far more supportive than any other woman in town, and it had nothing to do with her welcoming him to her bed. Other women had done that too, but he left feeling guilty from each of those encounters. With Sally, it was far less so. However, events on the trip meant he didn’t see Sally for over six months, and rarely had time to contemplate those choices and if they were even possibilities after all that time had passed.
Still on the California side of the Sierras, Adam was getting ready to camp after five days of slow riding during which he had mapped out a route and noted everything he thought might be important. He saw a black man heading to a stream to get water. The man carried two buckets, but that wasn’t what got Adam’s attention. He had a collar around his neck with spikes protruding about six inches and had shackles around his wrists. Up on the hill, a white man stood with a rifle cradled in his arms. The man going to get the water walked with a limp and clearly had trouble navigating his way down the hill and then back up with the buckets of water. The man with the rifle offered no assistance but followed the one bearing the heavy load as he headed back through the trees. It was too strange not to investigate. Tying his horses in some trees where they wouldn’t be seen, Adam worked his way across the stream at a narrow point and back to where he had seen the two. About that time, the man with the buckets was working his way down the hill again. Adam waited behind some boulders where he could not be seen by the man with the rifle. When the man with the buckets got there, he saw Adam and glanced over his shoulder up at the man on the hill.
“He shoot you if you try anything here.”
“I’m not going to try anything.”
“Then why you here bothering me?”
“I’m wondering what’s going on here. I saw you in shackles and him with a rifle. I wanted to know why.”
“Why? Why is because they can. Why is because white men is greedy bastards and make men who ain’t white do their work for them.”
“You’re being forced to work here?”
“What kind of stupid white man are you? Ain’t you never seen a slave before?”
“Actually, not for a long time and never out here.”
“Well, there’s a lot of us out here even if they do hide us up here in the mountains and such.”
“A lot of you?”
“Must be near a hundred of us in the three mines these bastards run. You really are a dumb white man.”
“Hey, what’s taking so long?”
The man with the rifle was getting impatient.
“I hurt my ankle on the way down, sir. Can you come down here and help me walk back up the hill, sir?”
“I’m not going to touch you.”
“Well, somebody got to help me, sir. I can’t walk up that hill by myself, sir.”
“You try to run away while I go for help, and we’ll make sure you regret it.”
“I can’t run, sir. I can barely walk, sir.”
Once the man with the rifle left, the man with the buckets introduced himself as Silas.
“You look like maybe you might be interested in helping. Can you help me run away?”
“I could, but they would come after us, and the odds are, we would be outnumbered by a lot.”
“I was hoping you was a good white man. I had heard there were some.”
“Listen, tell me everything you can before he gets back, and I am going to try to do anything I can to help.”
“They’re hiding this because they know it’s illegal. I’ll go to the authorities and see if I can get them to free all of you.”
“It’s them authorities put most of us in here on made-up charges. How you going to help with that?”
“What did you get put in here for?”
“Being indigent they said. I had a job, but I decided to go see my brother. They caught me traveling. Said I had no job and locked me up. That was the last day I was free.”
“Tell me about a few of the other cases. All I need to do is show a pattern of abuse, and I can make changes happen.”
“I don’t think it’s gonna work, but any hope is better than nothing. I got to talk fast then. Can you remember all this?”
“I’ll write it all down as soon as I get back to my horse and my supplies.”
“I sure hope you ain’t as dumb as I was thinking.”
In a rapid-fire delivery, Silas gave information on a number of men who had ended up in the mine as slave labor based on trumped up charges. All had gotten stiff sentences at hard labor for minor offenses too. Worst of all, most had not even committed the offenses as charged but had been forbidden to testify even in their own defense. When they heard the men returning, Silas stopped talking and sat back against the boulder waiting for the help he supposedly needed. A man also in shackles but with a chain from each one to shackles around his ankles got there and noticed Adam. He managed to steel his reaction so the guard above wouldn’t notice anything unusual. Silas told the new arrival that he would explain later. Then Silas grabbed one bucket in his left hand and the other man grabbed one in his right hand and Silas with his left arm as well as he could manage. The two awkwardly worked their way up the hill to where the impatient guard waited.
Once all three moved into the trees, Adam made his way back to his horses and pulled out the paper he had been using to make notes for the trail. He wrote down everything he could remember Silas telling him. Then he was torn. He had a duty to his family but he had an obligation to the men held in those mines. He scouted the mines before he left getting a good view of what was being done. Then he did a rapid survey of the trail route returning home faster than he had planned. There he told his family that he wasn’t available for the trail drive.
“What do you mean you ain’t available? What can be so dadblamed important that you can’t help your brothers when they need you?”
“Hoss, I found three mines being worked by slave labor when I was mapping out the route. Surely you and Joe can handle things on the drive. You don’t need me.”
Although Hoss wanted to argue, he couldn’t. He knew that Joe could manage the duties of bossing the drive as long as he was there to offer advice and with the experienced hands they had. The map of where the water and grazing sites were would make planning each day’s mileage much easier too. It was mostly that it was a comfort doing things the way they had always done them that was most upsetting. Joe seemed to feel the same way stumbling through the conversation much the same way Hoss was thinking with no logical reason to object but objecting anyway until he realized what he was doing. Then he stopped and shook his head.
“I guess this is stupid. I’m only running myself down trying to convince you that we need you.”
That got the first smile from Adam even if it was a small one.
“And you would never want to do that now would you?”
“No, I just think we should do things together.”
“I wish we could.”
It was a concession even if a small one and might have been an opening to some kind of compromise except their father stepped in then with his more pragmatic approach. Unfortunately what Ben said sounded too much like one of his usual lectures.
“Those men have been there quite a long time already. If you would wait until after the drive, then two of us could help you in this quest. The way you want to do it, you would be all alone. If you fail, and you must know with the courts as they are in California, you probably will. Since the Hall case, it’s clear how they will likely rule.
“He died, and Justice Terry is gone too. There’s a new chief justice now.”
“Yes, Field is there now, but he hasn’t made the changes that should be made. Field took over after Terry, but I’m afraid you won’t find a friendly enough ear there. He doesn’t seem willing to made the push to get things changed. You will probably lose this case, and then you won’t be safe. You might have to leave the area altogether to avoid the danger these men pose. With an operation as large as you describe it, they have a lot of reach. That much corruption is dangerous. I think you know that.”
“I’m prepared for that, but if I get the information out there, it won’t be long before some good man will take up the cause if I fail. Field isn’t corrupt from everything I’ve heard. He just needs a strong enough case that he can rule without opening a hornet’s nest of trouble. Those men being forced to work need to see freedom as soon as possible. I told them I would help. It’s something I have to do. I hope you all can understand that I have to keep my word. I’m prepared to face the consequences of my actions. I know that choices don’t always turn out the way we want. I’m willing to take the risks involved.”
“Adam, this is foolhardy.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Ben regretted them knowing the effect they would have. He saw the way Adam stiffened at his words, and he saw how his younger sons looked at him with disappointment knowing what he had done. If anything, he had guaranteed Adam would do it. Adam’s response was delivered with that low tone and emphasis on each word that signaled internal anger and resolve.
“Pa, I have a plan.”
Joe offered a much milder response than his father.
“I can tell you from my experiences that plans don’t always work out.” He got smiles in response to that and even a slight one of those came from his oldest brother. “Please tell me that you’ll ask some others to help you.”
“That’s part of the plan, Joe.”
“Good to hear. I hope you do it.”
“Like Pa says, Adam, I shur do wish you’d wait till we can help you.”
“After seeing what those men are enduring, waiting doesn’t seem like a reasonable option.”
With his lips pursed, Hoss nodded. He knew what that meant, and he would likely have drawn the same conclusion if he was in the position Adam was in having seen those mines and made that promise. He offered the same kind of support Joe had.
“I hope you can do it.”
Remaining silent because he had said already what was in his heart and mind, Ben only offered his hand. Adam took it and nodded slightly knowing how difficult this moment was for his father.
“I’ll be as careful as I can be, Pa.”
While the family made preparations for the trail drive, Adam got ready for his quest for justice and the freedom for the illegally held slaves. He left for California two days before his family began the fall cattle drive.
When Ben and Hoss went to town to pick up the last supplies for the drive, they got some idea of what Adam’s plan might be or at least what some of his back-up plan involved. They got a surprise at the general store.
“I didn’t think you would be buying any more ammunition after the amount Adam got the other day. He could supply a small army with what he bought, and pistols and rifles too. He wasn’t in a mood to explain why he needed so much, but then again, he seldom tells me anything about why he buys things here.”
“How much did he buy? Oh, never mind. Just fill the list we gave you. We’ll need those supplies for the trail drive.”
The storekeeper was the nosy type and wanted so much to have something to entertain his customers. A good story about the Cartwrights always garnered a good audience.
“Ben, do you have any idea why Adam needed so much oil cloth too? Seemed an odd thing to buy unless you’re planning to store all those things he bought.”
“Yes, to store those things he bought. I’m sure that’s what he’s planning to do.”
The storekeeper looked quite confused by that but couldn’t ask any questions as Ben turned to leave the store with Hoss following him out the door. Once outside, both looked up and down the street to be sure they wouldn’t be overheard.
“You think that’s Adam’s plan if the court don’t rule the way he wants?”
“I’m sure it is. Somehow, he will get those weapons to the men at those mines. Hoss, we need to be there when that happens. I know we won’t be able to stop him, and I’m sure that’s what’s going to happen.”
“That is a problem, but the courts will take some time to make their ruling just as it will take some time for Adam to present his case first. He’ll need to get a lawyer and gather his evidence before that. When the drive is over, we’ll get right on this.”
“Pa, you sure that will be enough time?”
Unfortunately, Ben was being overly optimistic. In California, Adam found the whole process frustrating but worked with the system as his personal philosophy demanded he do. Believing in the rule of law, he could hardly turn his back on it despite his sympathy for the plight of the men in those mines. First though, he made a stop on the way to Sacramento. Near the mines on the slope where he had first seen Silas, he buried a trove of weapons and ammunition in several shallow holes camouflaging the spots and making a small map of where they were. Then the rode on to begin the first phase of his plan with supplies in place if he had to resort to a desperation plan.
In Sacramento, Adam hired a lawyer after doing some research and finding one who had taken the cases of nonwhite people abused by the system. The man usually lost, but at least, he was willing to try. With a lawyer, Adam could get access to various records and court rulings that he needed to build his case. After three weeks, he had amassed what he believed was enough material to support his contention that men were being illegally put into slavery in California. When he had what he thought he needed to present to the court, he brought it to his lawyer and laid it out as well as he could.
“Adam, this is impressive. You should consider a career in law. This shows a pattern of injustice based on corruption that is extensive. I’ll write up the petition and prepare the exhibits. That should only take a day and then we can present your case. The courts will have to rule in your favor, eventually that is. Of course, you do know the lower court will throw it out based on the Hall case, but that’s to be expected. We’ll appeal then, and this will be exactly what Justice Field needs to get the Supreme Court here to rule in our favor. It could be the beginning of overturning some of what happened because of that damn Murray and Terry too.”
“So what’s the next step?”
“Day after tomorrow, we file the case. But, Adam, you need to take some steps to protect yourself before I do that. The people we’re going up against think of me as a harmless gadfly, but you are a new threat. From what I see here, you are a real threat to them. They’re likely going to try to do something to stop you.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“I hope that’s enough. I’m going to work on this today and prepare it for filing. As I said, I’ll take everything you have and get them ready to submit as exhibits, and I’ll write up the case too laying it all out in the proper legal language that they expect to read. I hope to have it done by tomorrow evening. You can stay and supervise if you wish or come back later to check the results.”
The lawyer wasn’t surprised. His client was a careful and thorough man. By the end of the next day, they had finished the work, but it was too late to file it. They agreed to file the case the next morning. Adam stayed in the office to make sure nothing happened to what he had so painstakingly collected. Clearly no one yet suspected the lengths to which he would go with the information he had gathered. They weren’t worried about him yet. That was going to change. He was well aware of that and a bit worried so he penned a letter to his father that he could leave with the lawyer in the morning with instructions to mail it if anything happened to him.
Alerted to Adam poking into cases of men sentenced to hard labor whose contracts had been sold to the owners of the mines, some wealthy investors were concerned about his activities. Meeting in a gentleman’s club where they were not concerned about their privacy, he was discussed without names being used.
“He’s nosing around too close to our business.”
“He can’t know anything important, can he?”
“I don’t know how.”
“Then how does he know which cases to get the records on?”
“Did somebody talk?”
“I doubt that. He won’t be able to do anything. If he tries to go to court with it, the ruling will be in our favor. We own the judges on the lower courts.”
“He might try to appeal.”
“He won’t be able to appeal if he’s working in the mines next to the men he’s trying to free.”
“That’s a good one. How would we do that?”
“There are ways. Let’s just say I have men in position to do that if he takes it to court.”
The other men weren’t surprised. All of them were greedy and without morality. Profit counted more than anything else. Cartwright threatened that so he had to go. Murder was messy and tended to lead to other problems. Putting him in the mine silenced him and kept the profits up. When the mines played out, he would be freed as would the others. They would divest themselves of all the property through the various companies they owned, and there would be nothing he could do about it. Tracing this whole scheme back to them would be next to impossible once it was done. Satisfied that all was under control, they went home and slept well.
For weeks, Adam didn’t sleep well. First, he waited for the court ruling as well as retaliation from the men he was challenging with the court filing. Nothing happened. Then the court ruled against his case which he had suspected from the moment he saw the judge’s reaction to what they had handed to him. It was like giving him a red-hot skillet. He wanted to throw it away and couldn’t. Adam wondered at the time if he was scared or had been bought, but in the long run, that didn’t matter too much. Either way, they were going to lose the case. When the inevitable ruling came after the perfunctory delay, he and his lawyer began preparing the appeal. Both were surprised at the lack of reaction to what they were doing.
“Adam, this quiet is unnerving.”
“Yes, it is. It makes me think they’ve got a plan and are waiting to spring it on us.”
“I’m thinking the same thing.”
“I got a telegram to meet my family in Stockton at the end of their trail drive. They made very good time to be there already. I’m going there tomorrow. We’ll discuss how they can help.”
“Be careful. Be very careful.”
However being very careful doesn’t help when six men enter your hotel room and use chloroform to put you under before carrying you from your room to the jail in a small town on the western slope of the Sierras. He never remembered the trip there. Held in a tiny, cold jail cell, Adam was repeatedly put under when he wasn’t being forced to drink whisky. He was given no food and no water. After two days of that treatment, he was filthy and had three days growth of a beard. When he was dragged into a courtroom and accused of indigency, drunkenness, and malicious mischief, he looked the part. Unable to stand much less testify in his own behalf, it was cut and dried that he was convicted and sentenced to hard labor for those offenses. Then his contract was sold to the owners of the mines giving the town needed revenue. Dragged from the courtroom and thrown in the back of a wagon and with shackles on his wrists, Adam was barely conscious when he arrived at the mine where he was going to work. Because they needed to keep him out of sight as much as possible, he was sent to the mine furthest from the public road, the one where Adam had met Silas. It was about what Adam had expected and what he had prepared for in his back-up plan. In his boot was the map he had made on the trip to California. He had put it there that day and kept it there every day expecting that he might be surprised as he had been.
A week later, the Ponderosa cattle drive reached Stockton. Delayed by unexpected bad weather, the Cartwrights were frustrated and anxious. Hoss immediately headed to the telegraph station to contact Adam. They got no response and then got the message that their telegram could not be delivered. Hoss was upset.
“Pa, he lost the case like we figured he would. I never expected him to leave. I figured he’d go on fighting it the legal way.”
“Hoss, he may have decided it was hopeless or he may have been threatened.”
“Ole Adam ain’t one to run from a threat.”
“Maybe the threat wasn’t to hurt him.”
“Oh, yeah, that could make a difference.”
Joe added his thought then.
“He’s been talking about leaving. Maybe this is the time he decided it was best to go.”
“If that’s it, he wouldn’t have gotten all those weapons for those men.”
“Oh, yeah. What do you think he’ll do about those?”
“I don’t know, but I think I want to go to Sacramento and see what I can find out.”
“Hoss, be careful. Adam already stirred up a hornet’s nest. I don’t want you to get stung.”
“I’ll go with him, Pa. There’s no need for all three of us to ride home with Hop Sing and the chuck wagon.”
“Then both of you heed my warning. One son missing is more than enough to worry a man.”
On the way to Sacramento, Joe asked Hoss if he had a plan.
“First, we find out the name of the lawyer Adam was working with and talk to him. I’m guessing that gets us nowhere. Then we head back to the mountains and find those mines. One way or another, I’m betting that’s where Adam headed.”
“So why are we wasting time going to Sacramento?”
“We need to find out what we can and let Pa get headed home so he don’t know where we’re going. We’re gonna help Adam to free those men.”
“Now that sounds like a plan I can folllow.”
In Sacramento, it wasn’t difficult to find the name of the lawyer who had worked with Adam. Finding that lawyer though was far more difficult. His office was closed and dark. When they went to his house, the windows were boarded up. He had apparently left. A neighbor noticed them and walked over to talk with them.
“You looking for Barlow?”
“We are. Seems like he up and disappeared.”
“Not disappeared. Moved. Decided it wasn’t a safe place to live. Seems he thinks it might be safer miles south of here where his wife’s family has got a farm.”
“Then who’s living in the house?”
“Mister, the windows are boarded up, but there are tracks in the dirt here leading to the door and out again, and I saw movement inside through the little window that still shows.”
“Your mind is playing tricks on you if you thought you saw something, and as to these tracks, I made them when I checked on the house.”
“Then your feet grew some and then shrunk up again. I think maybe my brother and I are gonna take a look inside.”
When they got to the door, it opened a crack.
“Are you trying to get me and my family killed. Listen, I know you must be looking for Adam, and I don’t know where he is. He was gone before they came and threatened me. If I tell you anything else, they said they’d kill me and my wife and children. So, go away.”
The door closed then and a lock clicked. Joe was ready to kick the door down.
“Joe, there’s was no point in pushing our way inside. The man was too scared to tell us anything, and I doubt he knows anything useful anyway.”
They said goodbye to Barlow and headed out of town toward the Sierras although no one watching them ride away would have any idea where they were going. By all appearances, they were heading home, and they said nothing to give anyone any other impression. They did discuss the little they had discovered.
“Hoss, based on how that lawyer was scared off with their threats, maybe it is possible Adam left. Maybe they threatened someone he cared about enough that he thought he had to leave.”
“It’s possible, Joe, but first we need to find out if he fell back to his back-up plan to use those weapons. If he did, we need to help. First we got to find those mines. With what he told us, I got a general idea of where to look.”
“You can tell one hill from another?”
“He said he was about five days into the mapping. There was a steep hill on either side, but the trail was on the north side of the stream. There are rocks along the stream big enough for a man to hide behind, and both slopes got trees. If you think about it, you’ll know where too. We just came through there two weeks ago.”
“You’re right. I think I know where you mean. How did you remember all of that?”
“Just a great mind, I guess.”
Watching his brother, Joe knew there was more to it.
“No, really, how did you know?”
“Adam left three marks on his map. I figured they was where the three mines were.”
“So, he guessed we might have to find them and left us a map. Dang, does he plan everything?”
“He plans a lot. I just hope he ain’t planned himself into a bunch of misery.”
“Or planned himself into such a big mess that he had to leave.”
“Yeah, that would be worse.”
Because they had no cattle to drive nor any map to make, the two brothers were at the mines in three days. They camped at about where Adam had camped and watched for anyone coming down to get water. It didn’t take long to see a man come down to the stream with buckets to haul water up to the mine. They should have talked to the man but instead worked their way across the valley and up the other side to observe the mine activity. They watched until the men were brought out of the mine near dusk. Staring intently, they didn’t see Adam anywhere around that mine. The next day, they were at the second mine and did the same with the same result. The third day, they observed the last of the three mines. Adam wasn’t in the vicinity of that one either.
“Dadburnit, I thought for sure he’d be here. He ain’t in Sacramento. He ain’t here. Maybe he did leave.”
“All we can do is go home, I guess. Maybe he contacted Pa while we’ve been looking for him.”
“I hope so.”
Two tired, dusty, and discouraged cowboys arrived on the Ponderosa a little more than a week later. Ben came from the house with a hopeful look that faded as soon as he saw the two. He had been living on the dream that his two younger sons might have had some luck in finding their older brother. When he heard what they had found, his shoulders slumped. He knew how protective Adam was of his family. If there had been a significant threat made against them, Adam might very well have left especially as he had lost the case and the cost of the appeal might be too dear.
“We need to make some contacts in California to see if we can find out if Adam left.”
It was all they could think to do and left a somber mood on the Ponderosa.
In the most remote of the three mines, Adam was working with the enslaved blacks and Native Americans and was being treated worse than any of them. Using a corrupt judge, the owners had Adam convicted of malicious mischief among other crimes. Sentenced to work on a chain gang for his supposed offenses, his contract was sold to the owners of the mine. Their plan was to work him as hard as possible and punish him as often and as much as they could so that he would be too weak to fight back. They wanted him quiet and neutralized until they had most of the gold and silver out of the mines. Then they planned to just leave with the profits. They didn’t think of themselves as monsters but as entrepreneurs who needed labor and had found a way to use the system to provide it even if they had to manipulate the system to do so.
Adam had expected something like that to happen and had allowed it to occur working with local authorities with a plan that they would step in to rescue him and charge those who had incarcerated him illegally. In addition, he hoped to foment a rebellion or an escape attempt among the slave laborers to assist that effort. However, those who were working with him succumbed to bribes. The other major problem was that as insurance, he had given a letter to his lawyer outlining his overall plan, but the lawyer was too scared to send it to Ben Cartwright as Adam had asked him to do. When the lawyer had tried to contact Adam to find out what his family wanted to do and couldn’t locate him, he went to the local authorities to ask about his client. It was after that visit that dire threats as well as the offer of a bribe convinced him that inaction was his best course of action. He began hiding out and avoiding any appearance of pursuing an appeal of the case he had lost.
What changed the protocol for Adam at the mine was that the mine manager, Fenton, realized that the mine was suddenly producing far more gold and silver than it ever had. Adam couldn’t help himself and told the workers how to mine more bullion. He had so much experience in mining that he knew far more than anyone else there. Fenton discovered that when he questioned the foreman.
“He tells them where to go after the bullion?”
“Yeah, he seems to know how to get the most out of here. At first, we didn’t want them to do what he said, but then we could see he was right almost all the time or maybe even all the time. He’s got some way of knowing how to follow the veins of gold and silver to get the most from them. Seems to know which way the rock is running. So we’ve been doing like he suggests.”
“Good decision because it certainly has been working out well. Well, keep them following his suggestions. I’ll see that there’s a bonus for you in your pay this month and every month that we keep producing like this and you keep your mouth shut about why it’s happening. Do we understand each other?”
“We sure do, boss. One thing, though. You don’t suppose there’s a chance that this is a plot of some kind, do you? I mean it all seems too good to be true and he seems too smart to have been caught up in something like this.”
“I considered that, but what white man would be so stupid as to get himself put into a camp with blacks and Indians and forced to be a slave? Nobody could be that much of a fool and agree to be used like that.”
“That’s true. I guess I can’t think of a white man who would do that. I still plan to watch him close to be sure though.”
The two men had reassured each other that they had a foolproof scheme to get rich. Fenton and the foreman realized they could keep much of that profit for themselves if the other investors did not realize that the mine was suddenly surpassing expectations by significant amounts. There was certainly enough profit for two especially as the foreman seemed cooperative and could help the scheme work. Fenton was not only the mine manager, he was one of the investors in the whole mining operation but he was only a minor one. He could make a lot more money working with this scheme, if he could keep the others from ever knowing about it. If he kept Adam well and stronger than he was instructed to do, he could keep working to increase production. That would mean the extra profit could continue indefinitely and perhaps be even greater.
There was a man at the mine who was suffering from consumption. When he breathed, everyone could hear the rasping sounds from a distance. He died soon after Fenton talked with the foreman, so Fenton had the foreman bury the man with the official report that it was Cartwright. When the other owners arrived to find out what happened to Adam, the foreman explained that Cartwright couldn’t take the workload, and he showed the men to the gravesite. The foreman told them it was Adam Cartwright, and that their problems with him were over.
“You didn’t kill him, did you?”
“No, he couldn’t take the work. He got sick. From that point, he didn’t last long. Nobody killed him. No one did anything to this man. He just died.”
“Good. It wasn’t murder by any laws that exist. He was sent here by a judge and died. It was all his own fault legally.”
The men were quite proud of how they had handled the situation. They left without ever checking to see if there was a white man among the slave workers there nor did they check the race of the man in the grave. Of course with the heat, it would have been difficult to tell the race of the corpse, but working in the mine, Adam retained the obviously lighter skin that showed he was white. Fenton made sure that all the workers were deep in the mine that day so that no one would see Adam. He and the foreman celebrated their success with a drink that night while Adam didn’t quite know what to make of what was happening. He knew the punishments had stopped and he was being treated better but wasn’t sure why. Suspicious of that reason, he was also under suspicion by the other workers even when he told them why he was there.
“I got thrown in here because I brought a court case to have you freed. Silas gave me the information, and I used it to file a case on your behalf.”
“What he said so far is true.”
Silas backing his story helped. But the suspicion didn’t die.
“I lost the case, but it got a lot of attention. It will be appealed.”
Although Adam wasn’t sure of that, he had to hang onto that hope.
“How do we know you ain’t been sent in here by them white men to get us to work harder to find them more gold and silver like we been doing since you got here?”
“Yeah, why would you help us?”
“Ain’t no white man gonna help us unless he get something for it.”
“I still think the bosses put you here so they could make more money.”
Using logic and his best diplomacy, Adam defended himself and his plans.
“If that’s what they wanted, they didn’t need me to be on the wheel and be treated so roughly. I could have told the foreman where to have you work and then sat outside in the shade again until my advice was needed.”
There wasn’t a good argument against that, but some still harbored suspicion, and at times, there were arguments that led to minor altercations. However, with no more punishment and the help of most of the other workers, Adam regained his strength and began plotting an escape. He bargained with Fenton when he realized he was being used. He tried to get some benefits for the other workers. Fenton was suspicious.
“You want a shorter day and better food for the workers. Why are you doing this?”
“I’m guessing you never plan to let me out of here alive. But I can do some good while I’m here, and I feel like it’s about all I can do. I’ve done a good job finding more gold and silver for you, and the better I do, the longer you’ll keep me alive. The more you help me, the more I’ll help you.”
“You’re pretty smart. But I have no intention of killing you. There’s no need for that.”
“So there is reason for me to be optimistic. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”
“Maybe you’re just foolish though. This is a hard life, and even if I don’t kill you, there are other things that could cause that same result.”
“There is that possibility too. I have been wrong about things a few times.”
“This could be one of those times.”
“It could. Perhaps I have miscalculated.”
“I’ll make those improvements to keep the profits high. They can knock off an hour early and they get their full hour for lunch break out of the mine. If the output drops, those benefits go away.”
The other workers noticed the change.
“You met with the boss, and now we got to work less.”
“How did you do that?”
“I’ve been showing you how to follow the veins of ore. If I can keep doing that, he’ll keep treating you better.”
“You might be all right for a white man.”
“There are a lot of white men who are all right. I’m sorry you haven’t met more like them. I’m hoping that there might be some who will show up here eventually. There are some who should be appealing the case I lost. In the higher court, they should win.”
“If they don’t?”
“Maybe you will need to find a way to leave here then without their help.”
“There are guards with guns.”
“There’s always a way. We need a second plan to deal with the guards with guns.”
“The second way could get a lot of us killed. Now I agree with you we need to get out of here, but I hope your first idea works.”
“I have guns for you.”
Some of the men began laughing. Adam pulled off his boot and took out the paper he had wrapped in a piece of oilskin. It had been in the sheath in the boot that was meant for a knife. Unwrapping the small map carefully, he showed the others where he had buried pistols, rifles, and ammunition. As he did so, he was encircled by many who wanted to see where the treasure was.
“How many is there?”
“More than enough to take on the guards here, and when you get their guns, probably enough to take on the guards at the other mines. They never expected any of you to be armed so they don’t have enough guards to fight an armed rebellion. Little by little, you need to get these and bring them here. Whenever you get sent to gather wood or get water, or even to relieve yourselves in the trees, take the opportunity to bring something back if you can. They are not going to suspect that is what you are doing so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Hide what you bring back where you can get to them easily enough but where the guards will never see them. I included a few files and other tools to help get these shackles off when you need them off.”
“Mister, I’m starting to get a whole other idea of what white men can be.”
“I told you there are good white men who want to do the right thing. I hope my family has found a way to help. If they haven’t, at least you have the guns and ammunition.”
“You still hoping your family is gonna show up to help somehow?”
“I’m still hoping.”
That hope was taking form on the Ponderosa. Ben had decided to take up the case against those men who were illegally holding slaves at the remote mines. It haunted him that Adam had tried to do that and then disappeared. Although he assumed Adam might have left, he had a fear that something else had happened. He didn’t even want to think about what the worst outcome might have been.
Once he got started on the case, Ben was persistent, and with the groundwork that was laid by the case brought by Adam, he had a great start. Then on September 22, President Lincoln gave him an ace in the hole. Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that would take effect on the first of January. It didn’t affect slavery in most states, but it did signal what the future would bring. It was what Justice Field needed to tip the scales.
When Ben and his lawyer got the Court’s ruling, they could smile. It was ordered by the Court that the black slaves were to be released. All had been indentured for what were called criminal offenses, but like Adam, the offenses had been trivial and nothing that justified years of hard labor. Evidence that they had even committed the offenses could not be found in most cases that were investigated. Others had been free men who had been kidnapped as far as anyone knew. There was no legal documentation for any of them being legally held under California law or any law that could be brought to court. Even with justices on the high court sympathetic to slaveholders, the men holding these slaves had no case. All legal arguments favored the release of the black men.
The slaveholders had gotten Adam out of the way before he could appeal the case because that was when the case would have been shown to be without merit. No one could bribe enough people to prevent that from being exposed once it got beyond the local court. When Ben pushed it like he did, the courts had to concede.
Before that happened though, Hoss and Joe thought they should have a conversation about what might have happened and what could still happen.
“Pa, there have been some threats against you. One was that you could end up on a work gang yourself.”
“Hoss, that won’t happen. That was one threat I hardly took seriously. Too many people including you and Joe are here and would do something about that.”
“Yeah, but me and Joe been thinking. What if that’s what happened to Adam? What if they put him on a work gang when none of us were here, and so there wasn’t nobody here to do nothing about it?”
Ben’s look showed he knew that it was a real possibility. Joe took over then.
“We were there and looked for him, but we weren’t thinking he was working there. We thought he was there trying to contact those men and get the weapons to them. But if it’s that other thing that happened, what they would do now would be to make sure Adam wasn’t around to testify, right? We think me and Hoss and maybe another man or two ought to go keep a watch on those camps to kinda watch to see if this might be what’s happening.”
“Boys, I think that’s a great idea. I’ll meet you up there when we get the favorable ruling.”
“Pa, are you sure you’re going to win this case?”
“Hoss, we are. Every indication is that we will win, and all they have to do is write up the ruling. Everyone including those on the other side are conceding that is the likely outcome. There is already talk of settlements.”
“Then I guess we better hurry.”
“Joe is right. Pa, if that’s the case, there’s no time to waste.”
With a couple of trusted men, Hoss and Joe headed to the mines and watched from a distance. They couldn’t get close enough to identify anyone without being detected. At the third mine, they intercepted a man with a severe limp as he walked down a slope to get water for the camp.
“You wouldn’t be Silas, would you?”
“Now, he said he figured you would be coming to help, but it had been so long. I figured he had more faith in you that he should. Now you’re here though.”
“Adam is here then?”
“Yes, your brother is here.”
“Is there any way we can talk to him?”
“Not likely. If I don’t hurry back with this water, there’s going to be a man with a rifle here soon wondering why I ain’t back.”
“We’re going to get as close to that camp as we can.”
“I’ll let Adam know.”
Working their way up the slope through the brush and trees, Hoss and Joe found places to conceal themselves not far from the camp where the slaves were held when they were not working. It didn’t take long for them to see Adam. He didn’t look much like their brother, but his walk was still distinctive. They watched as Silas talked to him and saw him nod and smile. They waited then to see if there was a chance that he might get close enough to talk with them. He couldn’t.
The case for the Native Americans continued in court, but Ben rode with men up to the mines to get the black men released. The news got there before they did, and the manager who had been keeping Adam alive was racing ahead of them planning to kill Adam before he could testify that he had been held illegally all this time. Their whole plan to cover up all the evidence and leave so that no one could prove anything was in shambles. If the authorities got a chance to talk with Adam or even some of the guards, Fenton and the others could end up charged with crimes. Black men couldn’t testify against them in court, but white men could. The most dangerous of those men at this moment was Adam Cartwright.
A black man hailed Ben at the first mine and gave him information including a message from his younger sons.
“Sir, you better get on up to mine number three. I was working up there until today, and I seen Mister Fenton and his foreman riding that way in a hurry. I figure they plans to get rid of your son before he can tell all that went on.”
“Yes sir, your son, Adam, has been up there with us for the last year. Your other two sons are there but could sure use your help. That’s what they said. One said to get there as fast as you can. Well, he said that if I saw you to tell you to shake your tail. I guess you know what that means.”
If Adam had to rely on his father for rescue, he wouldn’t have survived. Fenton was furious at the turn of events. He and the foreman had planned to take as much as they could and leave but found Adam and some of the slaves moving freely about the camp when they got there. It was a rebellion and the men were armed shocking both Fenton and the foreman. Fenton raised his weapon to fire at Adam, but one of the slaves ran toward him and bumped his arm knocking off his aim. The other slaves who were there rebelled and overwhelmed Fenton and the foreman before Fenton could fire a second shot. Fenton, the foreman, and all of the guards were disarmed and tied up. Hoss and Joe arrived to help put Fenton and the guards under arrest. Adam was hurt but not seriously.
Ben arrived to find all the slaves free and his sons talking. He informed the black men that they were legally free. The Native Americans were not, but they decided to go to the other mines and free the others and leave. Ben gave them a warning.
“Don’t kill anyone. They’ll send an expedition after you if you kill anyone.”
All the former slaves decided to go then so the guards wouldn’t fight back. All slaves were freed before the sun set that day.
With a cheeky grin, Adam finally got to address his family as all the slaves left.
“I’m glad you finally got here. What took you so long?”
“Son, I thought you would be a bit more grateful than to ask what took us so long. I could ask how a smart man like you let yourself get into a place like this in the first place.”
“Oh, I did it on purpose. What I didn’t expect was that the men I was working with were working with the other side. There are a few in law enforcement near here who are probably in a hurry to leave town.”
“You arranged to be arrested?”
“Not that, but when they did, I didn’t fight it. I wanted to see what they would do and then played along with it hoping to get more evidence against them and also to find a way to free these men. I went to the authorities to get their advice, their cooperation, and their help. I didn’t know those men were working with the men I was trying to get them to apprehend.”
“That was an awful big risk to take, older brother. Seems more like something Joe would do.”
“Yeah, Hoss, it does. Makes me proud of my oldest brother. It took a while but he finally decided to learn by my example.”
“Unfortunately, that seems to be true. My plan worked about as well as yours do, Joe. It was nearly a disaster, and I had to wait for my family to come help fix things. I don’t think I’ll be using your style again anytime soon.”
Hoss was laughing so hard by that time he had a difficult time getting on his horse.
“Where are you going?”
“I need to go get our other horses. We got a pack horse and an extra one for Adam if he can ride.”
Joe was confident. “Of course he can ride.”
Hoss though had seen the stiff way his brother had walked up to them and how he had sat down as soon as he could. Ben noted it too. He had a crease wound in his side too.
“Adam, what do you think? Hoss is wondering if you can ride. It’s quite a way to town from here.”
“If we go slowly. The conditions and the work have been hard. Fenton took a piece of my hide too.”
When Adam offered nothing more, they knew better than to ask. They knew there was quite a bit he was hiding about what had happened to him, but once they got to town, he couldn’t hide it for long.
After a visit to the doctor, a bath and clean clothing were obviously two things Adam needed. It was when those were provided that all was revealed about his condition. By necessity then, he told them a short version of what had happened.
“Apparently the initial plan they had was to use work and punishment to keep me weak and under control. It could have been worse, but it was far more severe than what I had suspected they would do. However, Fenton liked the increase in production that I could give him so he didn’t follow the plan. He buried another man who died and told the others it was me. By then, I didn’t look like I had, and they had no way of knowing I was still alive. I had no reason to tell them otherwise.”
“How did they punish you, son?”
“They had something they called the wheel. It was a large one that must have come from a logging operation that was there at some point. At first, I was tied to it every night and released in the morning to go to work. Most often, I couldn’t feel my hands or even move my arms when they untied the bonds and told me to get my breakfast. My arms were tied up above my shoulders so that was a problem.”
“How could you sleep or even eat your breakfast then?” Hoss had tears glistening as he asked the questions.
“Sleep was very difficult. Eating was something I didn’t want to do the only way I could do it.”
They knew what he meant by that because he had already told them he couldn’t use his hands in the morning or even raise his arms. Joe voiced what they were thinking though.
“No man would want to eat like a dog. It would be humiliating.”
“Yes, and it was exactly what I started to do after a couple of days.”
The shock to his family was palpable. It was almost impossible to imagine the proud man they knew doing something like that. Trying to picture it was beyond comprehension until he explained.
“The men who were there in those mines have a more realistic view of what men sometimes have to do. They have lived through experiences and hardships we will never have to face. We like to say that where there’s life, there’s hope. But what does that really mean if you don’t do something to feed the hope? I did what I had to do to beat them, to win.”
“But Adam, how could you? They must have laughed at you.”
Joe statement showed how shocked he was, but Hoss, at that point, was quiet thinking about what Adam had said. Ben too stared at his son wondering what he had been trying to do. Hoss spoke first and was fairly certain he knew what Adam had done especially with that hint of a smile his older brother had. He would have had a darker look if he had actually believed he had been subjected to humiliating treatment.
“You fooled them, didn’t you? They thought they beat you down, but all you did was stay alive and started organizing against them.”
“I did, but it wasn’t as easy as that. Some of the men there didn’t trust me. They worried that I had been planted there even when the others argued that I couldn’t be that stupid or that foolish. They made it hard on me at times, and there were fights too. On the other side, the foreman was suspicious of me too for the same kind of reason thinking that somehow I had been planted there. He tested me on occasion too. Those two situations are where these injuries and bruises I have came from.”
“But you did it. You got them all believing the story you wanted them to believe, the truth.”
“Yes, mostly it was the truth.”
“So, when Fenton went to shoot you, one of the men was right there to push his arm so he didn’t kill you, and then they rushed him. They had already taken away the guards’ weapons before any of them knew there was going to be trouble. It did seem that they had a lot more weapons too than the ones they could have taken from overpowering the guards and disarming them. It was all planned by you and you did it so nobody had to get killed.”
Hoss said it like he knew it was true, and when Adam nodded, Ben and Joe shook their heads. Joe was proud of what Adam had accomplished. Ben was too but had reservations about his methods.
“Yes, they saved your life, but the risk was huge.”
“The men are free as they should be.”
“They would have been free anyway.”
“There was no guarantee of that with the California Supreme Court set up with some pro-slavery justices who came from slave states and with laws that still favor whites over colored people. White men have found a lot of ways around following the law and the Constitution of the country and the California state constitution too. Can I be a Christian and let evil continue? It’s not enough to say I believe in things. I have to show it by my actions. Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
Hoss and Joe smirked. It was checkmate as far as they were concerned. Adam had used the Bible and logic to counter everything their father had said. Ben sighed, and by that, they knew he had not given up, but he had nothing more to say at that point.
“We shouldn’t argue with you. You need to rest.”
When they got back to the Ponderosa, Adam recovered, but there were problems. He wouldn’t fall asleep if it was completely dark in his room or if the door was closed. He didn’t like anyone behind him and reacted badly when that happened. It made him jump or startled him, and then he got angry because of how he reacted mostly because he was embarrassed that he couldn’t control the reactions he had. When he physically was fully recovered, he decided it was time to leave. That conclusion was something he was close to before he had decided on his quest to free the men in the mines, and nothing that had happened made him inclined to reverse it but reinforced his inclination to go. It wasn’t much of a surprise to his family even if they wanted to persuade him to stay.
“You don’t need me here. You did well without me. I lost too much while I was in that mine. I don’t have any more time to wait. While I was there, I have a lot of time to think about what I had done and what I still wanted to do. There’s too big a gap between the two. I need to find a life.”
“I want to do some of the things I’ve dreamed of doing, and to have a life that is more fulfilling. I’ve taken many risks to help others. I’ve worked hard to help you fulfill your dream, Pa. I’ve kept my promises. It’s time to take some risks to see what I can do. The choices I make now are going to be to see if I can find my dream.”
“What is your dream, son?”
“I don’t know anymore, Pa. It’s part of what I have to find out. I have to try things to see what it is that I want to do. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do yet, but I’ve never felt as free as I do right now.”
“You’ll be alone again. That worries me.”
“Maybe not. I’m going to pack. Then I’m riding to town to make travel arrangements. Wish me luck.”
When he left them with the enigmatic statements, they knew better than to ask questions he wouldn’t answer. Knowing that Adam had a lot to do in preparation for leaving, they didn’t expect him back that night. Depending on how things went, Adam guessed it might be more than one night. After a lengthy visit with his banker, he walked to the saloon to see Sally. He had already asked his brothers about her and knew she was still there. Once inside, he saw her and walked to a table near the back wall and sat down waiting for her to talk to him. It took some time for her to approach him.
“I heard you were back.”
“Yes, I’ve been back about two months. I haven’t been to town though so I wasn’t avoiding you. I needed some time to recover.”
Even though she saw the signs of weariness in him that showed he was still recovering from an ordeal, there was something else. He seemed more at ease than he had ever been, and he was almost smiling.
“I wanted to see you, but I knew I couldn’t.”
“That’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Are you going to tell me that it’s over?”
“What? No. I want to discuss our future.”
“Future? What kind of future could we have? Running up to my room for an afternoon and night of fun but hiding away there where no one can ever see us together even if they know we’re together. Your father ashamed of you being with me. What kind of future is that?”
Taking her hand, he had more of that look that was new. It was more hopeful and positive. She wondered what had happened to him.
“That is no future at all. I know that, and I was cheating you all that time when that was all that I was giving you. I want you to consider something else. I want to travel. I want to explore and find out what else I can do. I’m not sure where I’m going. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I have skills and training to do a lot of things. I have confidence I can get jobs. I want to find out what kind of jobs I can get and what kind of future I can build. I want to try things.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“I may be contrary at times. I may make unreasonable demands and have to be told no. I like to get my way and I don’t take it well when I don’t. But I do care deeply for those I love. I am as loyal as any man could be. I keep my promises. What that has to do with you is that I want you to come with me if you’re willing.”
For a moment, Sally was shocked into silence. She had to ask questions to get time to think things through.
“Won’t that scandalize your family especially your father?”
“I have a plan. No more trysts with a saloon girl. I want someone by my side who’ll be there for a long time and share my life.”
Intrigued, Sally wanted to know the details. She sat down then knowing he wasn’t toying with her and with a feeling in her heart that she needed to hear him out. When Adam got home, he told his family the basic details of the plans he had made.
“I’m leaving in a week. I wanted to have time to talk over anything any of you want to talk about. I didn’t want to leave abruptly like I didn’t care. I have a job waiting in Denver. There’s a lot of construction there right now, so I’m going to work there for a short time at least to get caught up on what’s happening in architecture now. Where I’m going from there, I haven’t decided, but I will write and let you know. I have a friend who will meet me in Denver and will most likely travel with me when I leave there so I believe I will not be travelling alone.”
Although again Ben wanted to know about this friend, he knew Adam wasn’t likely to tell them anything or he would have done so already. His brothers tried to pry information from him without success as Ben suspected would be the case. They had a good week together before Adam packed up his valises and headed to Denver.
Hoss had the most meaningful conversation with him. He noted how different Adam seemed than he had in earlier conversations about leaving.
“You don’t seem angry this time. All them other times you talked of leaving, you was mad about something. Now, you seem easy with what you’re doing.”
“I was letting my emotions especially my frustrations affect me too much when I spouted off about leaving each of those times. It wasn’t a well-thought-out decision but a reaction to something. This time, I thought it through with all the pluses and minuses and made my choice. I know some things won’t be easy, but the rewards could be great if things work out.”
“I’ll worry about you and what could happen to you.”
That brought a bit of a smile that Hoss had to answer with one of his own. So much had happened to both of them on the Ponderosa and because of it, it was unlikely anything worse could happen.
“But I won’t be there when it does.”
“I know. I’ll miss you too.”
“You’ll come back someday?”
“Is that a promise?”
Hoss frowned though knowing that he was missing something. He snapped his fingers when he realized what it was.
“Let’s say five years?”
“That’s a long time.”
“It could be sooner, but I’m not promising that.”
Once Adam was gone, Hoss shared that conversation with his family. First though, they had to see him off. They all managed to hold their emotions in check although it was difficult. After the stage pulled out, Roy stood with Ben and Ben’s younger sons staring down the street where the stage had disappeared around the corner.
“I guess we all knew this day would come. Interesting isn’t it who else left town recently?”
“Roy, what do you mean by that? Who else left town recently that we would find interesting?”
Roy was polite so as not to offend Ben. Careful in how he phrased his statement, it was still quite clear what he knew.
“Over to the saloon where Adam liked to spend Saturdays when he could, that pretty little Sally up and quit her job just about a week ago, packed her things, and headed out of town. Adam had been to see her, and folks seem to think he called things off with her. At least, that’s the talk I’ve been hearing cause she quit right after he talked with her. Told Sam she was done with that work and wouldn’t be back at least not to work in a saloon ever again.”
“Maybe he did, Roy. Maybe he did end that relationship with her because that was about when he told us that he had decided it was time to leave for Denver. He would have wanted to be honest with her and let her know he was going. Of course, he hasn’t seen her in months. First he was in California, and for almost two months, he hasn’t left the ranch until this past week to get ready to go.”
“Yeah, that’s all true, and that makes sense. There is this thing though. You would have expected her to be a mite upset, except I talked with her when she was waiting to get on the stage. She was in a right good mood. She didn’t seem upset or sad at all like I would have thought if Adam had ended things. And guess where she said she was heading?”
Suddenly Ben knew as did Hoss and Joe who both began to grin.
“Yep, I can see you likely guessed it. She had a ticket to Denver. Quite a coincidence, ain’t it seeing as how that’s where Adam plans to land for a while?”
Looking at his father, Hoss couldn’t tell what emotion he was feeling. Roy sauntered off then sure that he knew what had happened and that his friends now did as well. The three Cartwrights were relatively quiet on the ride home. It was going to be a different kind of home and family now with only three of them. Hoss and Joe volunteered to take care of Buck so Ben walked alone to the house. As they finished with the horses, Hoss sat on a bench, leaned back, and crossed his legs staring at Joe. He had a bit of a smile that made his younger brother curious about what he was thinking.
“Now, I know you’re not thinking about Adam leaving. What’s got you smiling like that?”
“We know Adam always liked Sally better than any of the other females in these parts. He spent enough time with her to let anybody know that. He told me once that her name wasn’t really Sally. She used that in the saloon because it was easier for customers.”
“What is her name then?”
“Joe, I don’t know. He never said, but my guess is that when Adam comes back here, we’ll find out because there’ll likely be a wife with him, and he’ll introduce us, and he won’t be calling her Sally.”
“You think he set this up to meet her in Denver? She’s the friend he talked about? I thought that too when I heard what Roy said.”
Ben walked back in at that point. He hadn’t been comfortable in the quiet house and had walked back to be with his sons for some needed comfort. He had heard enough of what had been said.
“So, he sent her ahead and he’s meeting her there. You think that’s his plan?”
“Pa, I’ve always said he was sneaky. If you think about it, by the time he comes back this way, nobody here is gonna remember what Sally was doing or even likely remember her. He worked that out slicker than a greased hog on a hot summer day, dontcha think?”
“Hoss, didn’t you tell me that he told you once that he wasn’t in love with her?”
“No, Joe, he said he loved her but wasn’t in love with her. He was just fooling himself. I reckon he got it all straight in his head now though.”
In Denver, Adam greeted his lady with a kiss and a grin. She had a carriage waiting and they rode to a house she had rented for them. Adam had set up a bank account there for their use. Once inside the house though, she was quiet and not as happy as he had thought she might be to have him there.
“Nothing is wrong so much as I’ve had time to think about things.”
“Do you regret making such an impulsive move to agree to go with me?”
When she didn’t answer, Adam was worried. With her back to him as she stood looking out a window, he couldn’t see her expression. Moving to her side, he touched her arm. That’s when she told him what was bothering her.
“Do you love me? You haven’t said it, and I’ve been wondering about that. You see, I do love you, and I agreed to come with you because I love you. But now I’ve been wondering if you love me.”
Wrapping an arm around her, Adam stood beside her and held her close as he spoke. She wasn’t at all sure what he was going to say.
“At one point, I told Hoss that I loved you but I was not in love with you. I told him we were good for each other. I was stupid. I had never really thought about us until I was in that mine for months and then home recuperating. There is no difference between being in love and loving you other than some youthful infatuation. No, I didn’t fall in love with you one day. My love for you grew slowly as I learned more and more about you and all of the fine qualities you have. I discovered that you were the best woman I had ever known and that I could trust you like no other. Yes, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you by my side. Does that answer your question?”
“Yes, it does. I wish you had said it to me sooner.”
“Sometimes I think my actions speak for me.”
“I’ll remember that.”
When she nodded, he kissed her in a way that let her know that his words had been sincere. They spent time in their rented house getting reacquainted, and in the morning, they set out for a walk in their new neighborhood. They had a destination in mind, and when Adam saw the church, he agreed it was a good choice. There they concluded the necessary ceremony that had been prearranged. Later, it was time for a celebration with a lunch at a fine restaurant and then some discussion of their future.
“Well, Monica Ann Cartwright, we’ve got about a week to do some shopping and get the house ready for us to live in for a year.”
“For only a year?”
“Maybe for only a year. I signed a contract to work here for a year. I need to get familiar again with design and building as well as to get educated on the changes that have been made since I left school. After a year, then we’ll discuss what we’ll do next.”
“What if your family comes to visit during the year?”
“By now, they may have guessed our plan. If they visit, they’ll find out. They’ll know either way if they visit. You’re my wife now, my family.”
“Yes, we’re a family but a small one. Do you ever regret not having children, Adam?”
“Yes, at times, I do. What about you?”
“Yes, there are times too when I wonder what it would have been like to have a family with children. What if it happens? How would you feel about that?”
“If it happens, it happens. I would be happy to be a father, but at our ages, I’m not counting on it becoming a reality. I mean, we haven’t been doing anything particularly special to avoid that for quite some time, and it didn’t happen. Did it?”
“No, I would never have kept something like that from you. I know how important the truth and trust is to you.”
“Yes. So, would you be all right with that if it happened?”
“Yes, I wouldn’t mind, but I would be a little scared.”
“I would be here for you and the baby.”
“I know. I trust you.”
Without reservation, he accepted that she did. She had taken him at his word and followed the plan he had laid out never questioning that he would follow through as he said he would.
“Now, let’s go shopping. I finally get to have a house that suits me.”
“A house that suits us?.”
“Yes. Of course, it will be our house.”
And Adam realized that his choices always were compromises of some kind and carried costs and consequences as well as risks. But he felt this choice had been one of the best he had ever made. He felt good too in that even though he would continue to make compromises in his life, the situations were now of his own construction. Smiling, he realized he was not only a designer of buildings but now finally the architect of his own life too.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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